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Oral intervention on the report of Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in Africa

Honorable Chairperson, commissioners, distinguished delegates,

The East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Network would like to thank the honorable commissioner, Mme Reine Alapini-Gansou, for her valuable work on the situation of human rights defenders in Africa.

EHAHRD-Net continues to be concerned about the situation of human rights defenders in our region, which shows few signs of improving. It is for this reason that we are obliged to again repeat our concerns about the restrictions on civil society space in Ethiopia and Sudan. While highlighting the situations in these two countries, we continue to be concerned about the shrinking space for civil society to work in all countries in the sub-region and attacks on individuals.

We welcome the Commission’s resolution on the human rights situation in Ethiopia passed at the 51st Ordinary Session, and urge the Government of Ethiopia to follow the Commission’s recommendations, including the call to amend the Charities and Societies Proclamation so that it is in accordance with the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also offered the support of her office in conducting a review of the legislation.

An overhaul of the law regulating the work of NGOs is becoming increasingly urgent as the effects of its severe provisions are felt.Human rights organisations are only able to carry out a fraction of the work they were previously to. As noted at previous sessions of this Commission, in 2009 the Charities and Societies Agency (CSA) ordered the freezing of the bank accounts of the Human Rights Council (HRCO).HRCO’s appeal against the freeze, which was ongoing at the last session of the Commission, is still pending at the Supreme Court.

In mid-June 2012, increasing discontent among Sudanese students and the ending of government subsidies on food and fuel grew into waves of popular demonstrations calling for regime change and greater freedoms. The Sudanese authorities again responded to demonstrators’ demands through suppression, including campaigns of arbitrary arrests carried out against students and youth leaders, human rights defenders, civil society and political activists, and opposition leaders.

Hundreds, possibly thousands, were arrested and detained, many for weeks or months without being charged with any criminal offense. Reports of torture and other forms of ill-treatment while being held by the Sudanese National Security Services (NSS). In suppressing demonstrations, the Sudanese police and security forces frequently beat and harass protesters, and female demonstrators are particularly targeted for sexual and verbal abuse.

In light of these concerns, EHAHRD-Net would like to encourage the Special Rapporteur to carry out country visits to Ethiopia and Sudan to assess these pressing situations further and to make targeted recommendations. We also call on the respective governments to invite the Special Rapporteur and other members of the Commission to visit their countries.

Finally, Madame Chairperson, EHAHRD-Net remains deeply concerned by continuing reports of intimidation and reprisals against individuals and organisations cooperating with the Commission and its special mechanisms. Much of the discussions around this 25th anniversary of the Commission have centred on the importance of the Commission’s relationship with its partners, including civil society. Such actions which are aimed at preventing the active engagement of human rights defenders with the Commission undermine the functioning of this Commission. We would therefore reiterate our recommendation to the Special Rapporteur to establish, as part of her mandate’s ongoing monitoring activities, a reporting mechanism to gather information on cases of reprisals against human rights defenders.

I thank you.